To my graduate.
You were three weeks old when I finally summoned the courage to head to the coffee shop. I dreaded trying to make sense of what had happened, but I wanted you to grow into a man of depth, of compassion, of character. In order to love this broken beautiful world, we first need to see both the good and the hard realities it holds. Naming what’s true is often a painful, yet necessary, start to the process.
I was acutely aware that the soil of your story had been violently tilled by terrorists, airplanes-turned-bombs torpedoing into buildings, crisp September air flooded with thick white ash —and the startling revelation that this world is not safe. You were seven days old when it happened. Tiny and vulnerable and unaware and tucked away in the cocoon we call home, you slept peacefully as the world watched. And wept. Finding and rearranging words to scribble on paper, the first entry in our journal to you, was my attempt to capture and preserve the tears. An odd first act of parenting a tiny new human. But I wanted you to know. To remember. To care.
At almost nineteen, you belong to “Gen Z” —the first generation of kids who’ve grown up with instant access to the internet via smartphones, whose parents’ illusions of safety and control toppled with the Twin Towers and, shortly thereafter, the stock market. We couldn’t protect you from the uncertainties of the world “out there”, but we could make sure you had BPA-free sippy cups and organic gummy snacks and playgrounds covered with shredded rubber so a topple off the jungle gym wouldn’t inflict a skinned knee. You learned your colors, your numbers, and how to be careful. Gen Z young adult tendencies are more like those of their grandparents’ Silent Generation than those of their predecessor, and perhaps unfairly labeled, “snowflakes.”
Your generation is marked by entrepreneurship (I need to, and can, take care of myself), hyper-connectivity (constant flow of information and feedback is the norm), caution and anxiety (the world is not safe), and balance (pragmatism > idealism of older, millennial siblings). These traits are neither good nor bad. They just describe the condition of soil from which you’re emerging.
You were born into a particular place and time, the soil of a specific culture. It’s your starting point.
What are you producing?
What do you want to produce?
These are eternal questions, really. Questions posed by the likes of King Solomon, Plutarch and Aristotle. Questions that were knit into the very fibers of your soul.
Your eighteen years have held many seasons. Some held the hope and fragrance of springtime. They were tender green years marked by Playmobil knights littering the living room and Fort Endor, built stick-by-muddy-stick, fortifying the back yard. Hours digging in the creek, watching black-and-white Davy Crockett defend the Alamo, and slowly learning the first utterances of your second language as you carefully plucked guitar strings with dirt-smudged seven-year-old hands.
Some seasons felt like an early frost, killing tender shoots of innocence with the cold realities of life. Hope felt dormant and distant, unlikely to reemerge. There were seasons of flooding and seasons of growth. Seasons of pruning that were painful for a parent to witness, and even more painful for you to endure. But always, eventually, the green sprouts of laughter or the simple enjoyment of music pushed through.
Some seasons lasted hours or days, but we’re approaching the turning of one that’s taken place over almost two decades. It’s been a strange and sudden ending, a season cut short by a torrent of disease rushing through every area of life cutting off last goodbyes. No final class. No last presentation. No party with confetti-sprinkled tables or cakes topped by “Class of 2020” piped in icing.
And just as we were learning to grieve the death of lost “lasts” there came the second wave, a tsunami caused not by a virus, rather fueled from the dire dark hearts of man. A deadly venom of fear and hatred, transfused through generations tracing back to the children in the garden. The sobering headlines during this graduation season strangely echo those broadcasted through your first weeks of life. Words proclaiming (and producing) fear, grief, weariness and despair.
Yet there is hope.
We are created in the image of a Master Gardener, born with a heritage marked by planting and tending and bearing fruit.
What are you producing?
What do you want to produce?
Keep tending to the soil where you’ve been planted —and where you’re soon to be transplanted.
Keep making clever memes and offering witty commentary..
The world needs laughter.
Guard your deeply loyal and compassionate heart.
The world needs mercy and justice.
Enjoy and create and be fiercely generous in sharing your music.
The world needs art as a balm for the soul.
Take with you your gifting and your challenges,
Your desires and your fears,
The hardest and the most beautiful parts of your story
That have all grown and shaped your beautiful soul.
Son, you’re becoming a man of depth, compassion and character. One who is thoughtful and loyal and who sees beyond his years. Remember that you’ve been planted in this particular place and time for a particular reason. Remember that in order to love this broken beautiful world, we first need to see both the good and the hard truths it holds.
Be curious. Pay attention. And as you move forward into the uncertainties and opportunities of this next season, live a life marked by extravagant generosity.
Congratulations on your graduation. The world needs you and the Class of 2020.
I love you,
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.— J.R.R Tolkien, The Fellowship of the King
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”